`Mom rage' has its uses

May 13, 2001|By Barbara Curbow

IN A STUDY on women and road rage, my colleague and I found that women who have high levels of home responsibilities and low levels of home rewards were more likely to drive aggressively.

To be honest, I don't really have a problem with road rage. I have found some coping strategies that work for me (I eat a bagel and drink good coffee while I commute). Lately, however, I have been struggling with something I can only call "mom rage." Before I note the consequences of my mom rage, let me tell you where it comes from.

Its origins are similar to those for job stress, road rage and other emotionally challenging problems: too many demands, too few rewards and too little control over the outcomes of our work.

The demands of mothering seem to grow exponentially. It continually takes more energy to protect my children from physical, psychological and social hazards.

Some of these hazards are new (club drugs) and some are old (smoking), some are more likely in the suburbs (eating disorders) and some are more likely in urban settings (gun violence), but they all seem more immediate, more urgent, than in the past. We moms see hazards no matter where we live, how much money we have, or what are our race and religion.

Rewards for moms are hard to come by.

There are many "no win" decisions, such as the issue of public vs. private schools. It has been insinuated that parents who choose private schools are racist and classist. But, in some circles, if you can afford to send your children to private school but you don't, you are viewed as selfish and uncaring.

How does a mother who is determined to make the school choice that's best for the child win this one? Is there anyone on the sidelines cheering on the quality of the decision-making process? Is there anyone offering a pat on the back and an "Atta mom, you did the tough thing -- you put your child's needs first?"

Finally, there is the issue of control. This has always been a problem for me.

By the time I had my first child I had a doctorate in psychology, and I was a fully empowered consumer. But it took me three days after I took my daughter home to realize that I could pick her up anytime I wanted. Why? It was against hospital rules.

Many values and characteristics that I promote in my children conflict with the rules or goals of the institutions that govern them. Asserting control over your child's life when dealing with these institutions is an art. If you press too hard, you are overbearing (or hysterical); don't press hard enough, you are ignored.

So what is the outcome of my mom rage? I feel this overwhelming need to make noise. It makes me want to e-mail my concerns, to write letters, to support other moms -- to let others know that I am there advocating for my and their children.

I think that within the boundaries of reasonable behavior, mom rage is not "bad behavior." It is a form of "activation" -- an energizing force to help us take actions -- no matter how small they may seem. It is far better than being "deactivated" or shut down, as happens when we feel we can't influence anything.

So moms, be activated. But be polite. We have an image to maintain.

Barbara Curbow is an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University. She writes from Reisterstown.

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